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Separate But (Not) Equal?

If you’ve attended one of our training sessions, you have heard us talk about faltruism™. For those who haven’t had the pleasure:

One example of faltruism we sometimes discuss in our sessions is an extravagant event

sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation (TTF): Night to Shine. There are a couple of aspects we highlight in our conversations. First, this is a great example of faltruism at work. That is, the event appears to be a “practice of selfless concern for the well-being of others,” yet when we look a little closer at the promotional materials splashed all over the media when these events take place annually, it quickly becomes clear that the event is also an excellent opportunity for self-promotion and self-congratulation for the professional athlete whose foundation sponsors the events.

Another aspect we solicit input about is the idea of having a segregated prom for people who have disabilities (the TTF refers to individuals who experience disabilities as “people with special needs”; however, we choose not to use the euphemism “special needs”.) During our most recent session at the MN Department of Human Services Age & Disabilities Odyssey Conference on Aug 1, 2019, a session participant shared her perspective on holding “adult prom” for a specific group of people. She talked about a Queer Prom she had attended, such as those organized and hosted by the 20% Theater Company (as a fundraiser for the organization), and shared that these events were incredibly fun and she recommended that we all participate in an adult prom if we ever have the chance!

So what makes an event like Night to Shine different from the event the conference participant talked about--why do we think this event, specifically, is an example of making it weird? It is largely the way that the people who supposedly benefit from this event are portrayed by the media and by Tim Tebow himself. For example, the mission of the TTF is “to bring Faith, Hope and Love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need”--a perspective that suggests that having a disability is synonymous with living in the “darkest hour of need”. Tebow was quoted

in an article written by Ariel Henley as saying “...They’re all crowned as prom kings and queens…we’re finding that communities are starting to treat these people different all year around” (emphasis added). In the end, the motivation for the event is patronizing at best and stigmatizing at worst. In the same article, Dr. Eric Samuels, a psychologist who specializes in working with people with disabilities clarified that “[p]eople who do not have disabilities may believe that people with disabilities are inferior, are dependent upon support, and are less human than they are.” Henley goes on to say, “What he describes—and what Night to Shine perpetuates—is ‘otherness.’ What we’re doing when we say that disabled people need their own social event is effectively pushing them further into the margin” (2018, para. 8).

This example frequently generates lively discussion--debate, even--among our session participants. Our goal is not to judge, but to initiate conversations that matter. So...what do you think? We challenge you to start a conversation about this with your co-workers, friends, family, even strangers!

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